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Peppers 101: Mild, Smoky, and Hot

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Peppers
Photo by Jonathan Boncek

For decades, green bell peppers were a staple in the kitchen, accented by jalapeños or a spinkle of cayenne when a little more heat was desired. As American cuisine has become more diverse, it’s called for a greater variety of peppers. For instance, roasted and grilled shishito peppers have been gracing the menus of many Southern establishments, and a huge array of new hot pepper sauces have been appearing on grocery shelves.

Both bell and chili peppers are members of the capsicum family, but chili peppers are generally hotter than bells. Much of the heat of chili peppers resides in the seeds and membrane inside of the chili; so removing those can help make a spicy pepper more mild while retaining its flavor. Here’s The Local Palate’s quick guide to which peppers are hot, and which are not.

Mild

Ancho Peppers

A chili pepper that is a dried poblano. Sweet and smoky, they can be reconstituted by soaking in hot water. Also found ground and jarred.

Photo by Melina Hammer
Sardines with Skordalia, Roasted Red Peppers, and Goat Cheese. Photo by Melina Hammer

Bell Peppers

All bell peppers begin green and then ripen to yellow, red, white or purple. Sweet and mild, they are often roasted, pureed to make a coulis, stuffed and roasted or chopped and used in salads. Sardines with Skordalia Roasted Red Peppers and Goat Cheese

Pimento Peppers

Red, aromatic and sweet, these peppers are a key ingredient in pimento cheese. They are also dried and ground to make paprika. Baked Pimento Cheese and Crawfish Grits

Shishito Peppers

A sweet Japanese pepper with thin flesh that makes them ideal for stir fries, roasting and grilling. Roasted Marinated Lamb Lollipops with Charred Shishito Peppers and Romesco Sauce

Piquillo Peppers

A Spanish pepper that is sweet like a bell pepper. A good choice for roasting and often found canned or jarred. Salt Roasted Beets with Piquillo Pepper and Raspberry Puree

Medium

Poblano Peppers

Originally from Mexico. Their heat can vary from mild to spicy with no clear indicators for heat. They are often found stuffed and roasted. Poblano peppers are hotter when they are green and tend to become more mild as they ripen and turn red.

Photo by Josh Merideth
Vera Cruz Style Ceviche with Jalapeño Green Olive and Roasted Tomato Citrus Broth. Photo by Josh Merideth

Anaheim Peppers

A chili pepper that originated in New Mexico. They are often found canned and sold as green chiles. When used fresh, they are commonly roasted.

Jalapeño Peppers

A commonly found chili pepper from Mexico. Jalapeño peppers are used fresh or jarred and get hotter as they ripen and age. Jalapeños develop white lines as they age and these lines are a good sign of heat. Vera Cruz Style Ceviche with Jalapeño Green Olive and Roasted Tomato Citrus Broth

Hot

Cayenne Pepper

Also known as bird pepper. Originates in South America, cayenne peppers are commonly found dried and ground and in flakes. Cayenne peppers are commonly used in hot sauce. South Indian Cabbage Fry

South Indian Cabbage Fry
South Indian Cabbage Fry. Photo by Andrew Cebulka

Serrano Pepper

Look similar to a jalapeño but more slender and pack a hotter punch. They are often roasted but can be used raw in salsas and sauces. Found in Mexican, Indian and Thai cuisine. Egg Curry

Thai Chili Pepper

Thai Chilis includes a variety of peppers and not one specific pepper. The group includes Kashmir, sriracha and bird peppers. They are commonly found ground in curry sauces and pastes throughout Asia and India. Mogul Lamb Curry

Habanero or Scotch Bonnet

Very spicy peppers. Care should be used when handling these small, yellow and orange peppers. Gloves are a good idea and wash anything that comes into contact with the pepper, juice or seeds. Use sparingly. Habanero Peach Hot Sauce